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Arson cases spike in city of Flagstaff during fire ban
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Arson cases spike in city of Flagstaff during fire ban

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Fire

In the past two weeks, six cases of arson have been reported to the Flagstaff Police Department across the city.

Police have made arrests in five of the cases, four of which were linked to the same subject. Police are still searching for a suspect in the case of arson that is believed to have been started by Molotov cocktails thrown at a garage on North Fourth Street.

The six cases of arson that were reported in the past two weeks equals the total amount of arson cases reported to Flagstaff police last year.

The structures that burned varied from dumpsters, cardboard compactors and unattached garages. No one reported any injuries due to the fires.

The city’s fire restrictions were implemented early in the year to limit firefighter exposure to COVID-19 that could occur while they suppressed fires. Currently the city is in stage two fire restrictions, which stop permits for open burning and prohibit charcoal grills, open fire pits, and smoking on parks and trails.

Additionally, as the city enters July, temperatures rise and the forests continue to dry out, multiple red flag warnings have been issued over the past few weeks. Coconino National Forest lists fire danger as very high for each of its districts, and the Kaibab National Forest lists its fire danger as extreme.

In light of these warnings, the Flagstaff police and fire departments are increasingly concerned that people appear to be deliberately using fire to damage property, said Charles Hernandez, spokesman for the Flagstaff Police Department.

“Given the fire ban and restrictions in place as a result of dry wildlands, any form of fire, including intentional arson, presents catastrophic danger not only to the community but by the responders sent to contain these fires. For these reasons, the arson cases are extremely concerning to the department and community safety,” Hernandez said.

At this time, officers believe the cases are not linked because the targets did not appear to be related.

“In these incidents, there has not been a correlation made to suggest these incidents are related,” Hernandez said.

In Arizona, punishment for arson varies based upon the value of the damaged property. A more severe felony is used when arson cases involve property that’s valued above than $1,000.

The six cases are a reported case of arson behind the jail on June 30, four reported arsons on Milton Road on July 5, and the Molotov cocktail incident on July 8.

“In order to prevent these crimes from occurring, we are going to need the public’s help in identifying individuals responsible for setting the fires,” Hernandez said.

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Arson cases

A string of four arsons are believed to have occurred in the early morning hours last Sunday, according to police reports.

An officer found one of the burns at the Michael’s craft stores, and the others were reported near the Grand Canyon Brewery, Denny's and Circle K — all businesses with addresses near or on Milton Road.

An officer was initially responding to a burglary alarm at Bookmans at 2:54 a.m. when he saw smoke behind Michaels. After calling the fire department, the officer found Michaels' cardboard compactor, recently filled with cardboard, burning.

Firefighters at the scene told the officer there was a second fire in a commercial dumpster behind Grand Canyon Brewery. The fire in that dumpster was hot enough to cause the paint outside of the dumpster to curl off, one officer reported.

Officers responding to the scene found a can of paint thinner on a recycle bin nearby, which was taken as evidence as a possible source of igniter fluid.

At the nearby Circle K, officers found a partially melted gas can inside the burning dumpster. Police took the can as additional evidence of igniter fluid.

At the Denny's restaurant on Milton Road, burning cardboard was also found in the dumpster. Officers used surveillance cameras to find the fire was started by what appeared to be the same suspect.

The fire burned from 1:30 a.m. and went out naturally at 2:54 a.m., police reports show.

Video footage was also taken from the Grand Canyon Brewery and nearby Target. All of the footage showed a white man with a grey hoodie with the hood up and a hat on, carrying a bag in his right hand. In the Target footage he’s seen looking into a trash barrel before continuing northbound off camera.

Lorne Arthur, 37, was arrested and booked two days later for four counts of arson and four counts of criminal damage.

Investigators had not identified a suspect in the case of arson involving the alleged Molotov cocktails as of Friday afternoon, Hernandez said. The case began early Wednesday morning when residents of an apartment complex on the 1400 block of North Fourth Street saw an unattached garage and a tree burning.

The fire was suppressed by Flagstaff firefighters without any injury. Unbroken bottles with gasoline liquid inside and burned paper inserted were found in the burn area, and are believed to be Molotov cocktails.

Additionally, Henry James, a 51-year-old man from Phoenix, was arrested for starting a wildland fire on the Flagstaff Urban Trail System behind the jail and police station near the end of June.

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